Aug 102014



Texsom 2014: Sommeliers Get Beyond the Big Three

The @ItalianWineGuy, Alfonso Cevola moderated an interesting tasting panel this morning at Texsom 2014. It had to be one of the most diverse sessions by far at this years conference. It included bubbles from New Mexico, a bracing cuvée from Michigan, counter currents of Michigan and New York Rieslings, Mediterranean-heritaged red wines (Sangiovese and Tempranillo) from Texas, and a (non-vinifera) Norton from America’s heartland, Missouri.

Cevola reminded the participants in his tasting session, “It was only 30 years ago when the “Big Three” of American wine (California, Washington and Oregon) were a new phenomenon, just like the “Beyond the Big Three” wines are today.”

At one point, we were only a few words short of a major encounter between Paul Lukacs and Guy Stout MS when Paul said that the best domestic Viognier he’s found is from Virginia. Guy bristled and retorted that Texas has some pretty darn good Viognier juice, too.

No matter if we couldn’t agree which state brought the best wine to this tasting, there appeared to be universal agreement on the fact that these local wines were on the cutting edge of diversity. Cevola said, “These wines could infuse an interesting new diversity to wine lists.”

Cevola’s reference was aimed directly at restaurant wine lists that are far too long on the same group of Chardonnays and Cabernets (five of which taste pretty much the same). In contrast, local wines from around the United States have interesting nuances that offer new experiences for wine drinkers. All of the panelists agreed that it’s high time that sommeliers realize that local wines can bring an exciting new element to their wine lists.


Guy Stout MS

After his first hand account of his battle with the Raccoons in his Texas hill country vineyard, Guy Stout MS, presented two Texas wines. The first was Duchman Family Winery Sangiovese (single vineyard designated from Reddy Vineyards), Texas High Plains AVA. The second was Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo, Texas High Plains. Neither was heavily extracted or high in alcohol, but brought a minerally character that shined through the tart berry character of the wines. These are the terrior-driven wines that are now the calling card for Texas that will remain in future years.

I think that panelist, Wayne Bending MW summed it up best when he said, “Rather than trying to find obscure wine regions in Eastern Europe, restaurant sommeliers would be better served to look to obscure region right here in America. They have a lot to offer.”


 Posted by at 10:48 pm
Aug 092014

Drew Hendricks MS and James Tidwell MS: Founders of TEXSOM

Texsom 2014: Ten Years Old and Thanks to These Guys

We all have these guys (Drew Hendricks and Jame Tidwell) to thank them for creating what is today…TEXSOM!

It started small and grew from it’s humble roots ten years ago to the preeminent position it has today. Many consider TEXSOM (held at the Four Seasons Las Colinas Resort) the best wine beverage symposium and educational experience around. According to Hendricks (quoted previously my lubbockonline column), “It all started with just a few people at the first symposium, but every year the conference has grown. This year will be the biggest ever with several hundred people attending, looking for a chance to taste with the best and learn.”

TEXSOM 2014 is impressive with 23 Seminars taught by 39 Master Sommeliers, 10 Certified Wine Educators, 6 Masters of Wine. There are 8 certification opportunities offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, Society of Wine Educators, Wine & Spirits Education Trust and Specialty Tea Institute, 25 Texas Sommeliers Competing in the Texas Monthly Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition.

Tomorrow night Texas Fine Wine will co-host with Texas Monthly a Hospitality Suite for TEXSOM participants. Texas Fine Wine represents four distinguished and award winning Texas wineries: Bending Branch Winery, Pedernales Cellars, Brennan Vineyards and Duchman Family Winery.


But wait, there’s more. Over 200 wines will be available for tasting and evaluation at the Monday evening Wine and Food Foundation of Texas Grand Tasting.

We are partying tonight, but will be getting down to the “work” sessions tomorrow.

I’ve signed up for three tasting sessions tomorrow including:

  • Beyond the Big Three: Exciting Regions of the U.S. Beyond the West Coast (Texas has to be in this one!)
  • A History of Napa Valley
  • Pathways to Blind Tasting

On Monday, I have three more, including:

At the end of the day on Monday, it’s the Grand Tasting with wine from around the world and our home state of Texas, proudly poured side-by-side for all to taste.

You may think that this is all just for fun, but TEXSOM is seriously about education and it has helped to bring respectability to the Texas wine scene.

 Posted by at 11:25 pm
Aug 072014


A Texas Winemaker with a New Mission and Wine: Brock Estes, DANK, Johnny Rojo, a starter wine without training wheels!

If you don’t know Brock Estes, it might be hard for you to make a sentence with these three words in it: Fly Gap, Dank and wine. But, if you get to know Brock Estes and his winemaking/winegrowing associates in Mason County, you’d have no problem doing it. You’ll have the opportunity to meet-up with Brock and try some of his Fly Gap Winery DANK, Johnny Rojo (a red blend wine) this Saturday at Sandstone Cellars (details below). But, why take the trouble to travel to Mason for a wine release?

Well, according to Brock, “Johnny Rojo is a wine that I feel will get a lot of non-wine drinkers into wine; actually, excited about wine and trying other wines, as well.”

Having just tried this wine, all I can say is, Johnny Rojo’s not anything like the slightly sweet, pink and sometimes sparkling wines (think, insipid) that introduced me to wine when I first explored wine drinking in the early 1970s. Johnny Rojo, first off and with emphasis, I can say, it is a serious wine. If he considers it an introductory wine, then I’d call it a starter wine without training wheels!

Brock continued, “It’s a kitchen sink, fusion blend that is fruit forward and well balanced.  Not too complex, just really simple and really smooth and good.  It’s an easy drinking (red) wine, and should be a real crowd pleaser.”

Brock’s lingo (e.g. kitchen sink, fusion blend) is similar to Mason County winemaking brethren like Don Pullum who I’m sure has had an influence. However, Brock has reached out to Texas winemaking leader, Kim McPherson (McPherson Cellars, Lubbock Texas) to help him craft this wine and also to put together a group of wines that speak to Brock’s personal winemaking mission. According to Brock, “My goal is to steer younger or less established wine drinkers onto increasingly more serious wines by offerings beyond Johnny Rojo.” Continue reading »

 Posted by at 1:24 pm
Aug 052014

Dan McLaughlin at Robert Clay Vineyards

My Cup O’ Texas Chardonnay from Robert Clay Vineyards

It was in the dead of winter when I met Dan McLaughlin for the first time at Sandstone Cellars in Mason, Texas. I had seen a Facebook posting or two from his Robert Clay Vineyards, but not much more. That evening was spent mainly watching Texas consultant winemaker (and reality cooking show star) Don Pullum’s debut on the ABC Series, The Taste.

Near the end of the evening, I started talking to Dan and the word “Texas” and “Chardonnay” came up in one of his comments. In quick response, I said glibly, “That’s something that I wish Texas winemakers would do less of. To me, Good Chardonnay is like a Texas oxymoron.” Before I knew it, Dan hauled me over to the bar and asked someone to find the last bottle of Pilot Knob Vineyard Chardonnay. As I found out shortly thereafter, his interest in this wine was because the grapes were grown in his Mason County vineyard.

After also requesting a handful of glasses, Dan poured out the golden liquid and waited for my taste and reaction. It came quick and with an expletive when I said, “Damn it Dan, this wine is good!” It was in a medium bodied style and had a moderate dose of oak.

Ever since that evening, I’ve had to temper back my thoughts on Texas Chardonnay. Now I say that it’s not something that you can depend on being good every year or from every vineyard site, or something on which you would base you winery’s business. But, if the year brings it, definitely savor it and enjoy it.

Fast forward to last month…

I get an email from Dan advising that his 2014 Chardonnay is about ready for harvest and things are looking very good. I asked him how he knew they were so good. Dan replied, “You can taste it in the grapes.”


To make a long story short, after gaining Dan’s permission, I stopped out to Robert Clay Vineyards this past Saturday. According to Dan, he and friends harvested half of his crop of Chardonnay the night before and it was destined for this year’s Pinot Knob Vineyard Chardonnay. The other half was to be harvested shortly and going to be headed to Compass Rose Cellars. This left me time to see if what Dan was saying about his Chardonnay grapes was true – possibly 2014 was another opportunity year for Texas Chardonnay.

When I arrived, the prior night’s activity was plain to see from my position at the gate. The hand made “Park Here” sign was still up, there were a few up-ended plastic chairs and several rows of stripped naked Chardonnay vines to my left I as drove into the center of the front vineyard block.

After I stopped, I walked out into the rows of remaining Chardonnay until I found a few clusters to my liking. I had enough to fill a plastic cup to take back to the car….my afternoon Cup O’ Chardonnay.


Well, I will have to admit that the grapes were fine: ripe but not overripe, the seeds were mostly brown and crunchy. To me, these grapes would make a quite nice, lighter-styled Chardonnay perhaps with the ability to take just a light hit of oak (French would be interesting) and make a respectable wine. The second harvest would likely be even riper and make an even sturdier wine, if that is to your liking.

But, only time will tell. The wines need to be made, aged and bottled. In the meantime, I’m left with the memory of an afternoon delight with my Dan McLaughlin Robert Clay Vineyards Cup O’ Texas Chardonnay.


 Posted by at 10:15 pm
Aug 042014

Label Art from Eden Hill 2013 Divine White

Divine (and Gold Medal Winning) Wines of Eden Hill Vineyard

Every now and then, I taste a wine and makes me realize why I spend so much time tasting Texas wines. In this case, there were two: Eden Hill Vineyard 2013 Roussanne (Oswald Vineyard) and their 2013 Divine White. Both wines are well made to the point of being downright energizing: pleasant on the palate while also stimulating for my wine-appreciating soul.

Apparently, my reaction was not a one off reaction. Both wines crafted by Eden Hill Vineyard’s winemaker Chris Hornbaker also made an impression on people in San Francisco, too. The good thing was that these people were the judges at this year’s San Francisco International Wine Competition, the largest wine competition in America, with over 4,500 wines from 31 countries and 26 states. It would be easy for a wine to get lost in this competition, if it weren’t for the quality of these wines.

In the case of the Eden Hill Roussanne, it was made from a white grape variety that, despite its lack of name recognition, has increasingly done well in Texas. Also, the grapes came from Oswald Vineyard, a primo grower in Brownfield, Texas, on the high plains (near Lubbock). It is long on lemon citrus and tropical pineapple with an overlay of nutty almond nuances and a silky mouthfeel.


Label Art from Eden Hill 2013 Roussanne

The second wine was the Eden Hill Devine White, a white blend of grapes coming from two Texas vineyards: Albariño and Pinot Grigio from Bobby Smith’s Springtown, Smith Estate Vineyard, and Orange Muscat from Eden Hill Estate Vineyard in Celina north of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. This wine is bright to the point of perky with crisp acidity that carry this wines ever loving citrus character.


Eden Hill’s Clark (left) and Chris Hornbaker (right)

Chris (shown with his father Clark) has been working on his enology and viticulture classes at Grayson College in Dennison, but he lacks one class for a degree. Well, from the results of the SFO competition (and from his gold medal winning accomplishments in 2013), I can’t say that he is lacking anything in his winemaking skills (but make your father and mother happy and finish your degree, Chris). As a family operation, they rely on his ability to bring equal parts of art and science into their Eden Hill winemaking process, and he appears up to the task. The winery also includes Clark and Linda Hornbaker’s daughter Wendy and her husband Chanaka as partners, too.  The Eden Hill label art is created by Wendy and Chris: Chris did the Divine White label,  Wendy the Roussanne.

This latter point is important. Both Eden Hill wines have eye catching designs. The Eden Hill Divine White gets an added lift from the label art showing an emulation of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam complete with a white Texas cowboy hat on the head of our very own cloud-riding, gray-bearded creator. Some might call this bodacious. But, I see it as a adding a bit of Texas twang to the Eden Hill wine drinking experience.

Stop by their estate vineyard and tasting room in Celina, February 10 to December 31, open every Sunday, from 1 PM to 6 PM: Eden Hill Farm and Vineyard, 4910 Eden Hill Lane, Celina, Texas 75009,

 Posted by at 9:27 pm
Aug 022014


Perissos Vineyards and Winery: Harvest Visit

It was back in 2010 when I first trekked out to Perissos Vineyards (in the Texas hill country near Burnet, TX) to visit Seth Martin, then a new face on the Texas hill country wine trail, not knowing much more than he worked with Roussanne. Then, sight unseen as to my winemaking skills (which were and still are meager), Seth pointed to a ladder and told me to take hold of a hose of rushing thick purple juice (See: Then, nearly a year later, a tasting session at Perissos Vineyards ended up with finding Native American artifacts in his vineyard (See:

Yesterday, unsolicited I showed up to see what Seth was doing. It was a remarkable August 1st harvest day for his estate vineyard’s Viognier. The Muscat was already in the winery, the temperatures were hanging around the upper 80s, refreshing breezes whisked through the vines, vineyard hands were lunching on pizza and juice was running from his press.

Taking a mid-day break, Seth led me through his estate vineyard where he is working hard to use natural methods to control plant vigor while encouraging better vine heath and grape quality. The proof of success was seen in his high cordon, second leaf (2nd year old) Malbec that pushed a respectable (even remarkable) crop. Aglianico, one of his favorite grape varieties, challenged in areas by a patch of high pH soil and cotton root rot, was getting treated with an innovative technique of microbes. Seth’s vision is for these microbes to set after the soil fungus that causes this vineyard scourge.


Seth Martin at Perissos Vineyards (Courtesy James Skogsberg)

Here was Seth, the winemaker and vineyardist (wearing sunglasses and with his trusty pruning shears always on his belt) show above earlier in the year, that had come miles in experience and knowledge in just four short years when I first met him. Having gained experience and the courage, he was now prepared to try his hand at increasingly advance techniques. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 10:21 am
Jul 212014


At Texsom, Go For The Gold: Texas Monthly/Texas Fine Wine Reception

Celebrating one of the largest and most prominent wine education conferences for wine, spirits and beverage professionals, Texas Fine Wine is a proud sponsor of TEXSOM in its 10th year.  Texas Fine Wine will co-host with Texas Monthly a Hospitality Suite on Sunday, August 10, for TEXSOM participants. Representing four distinguished Texas wineries, Texas Fine Wine will also pour wines for guests attending the August 11 Grand Tasting.

Texas Fine Wine members include Bending Branch Winery, Brennan Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery and Pedernales Cellars, a select and distinctive group of Texas wineries dedicated to producing quality wines sourced from Texas appellation vineyards, delivering excellent customer service and setting the highest standards in the Texas wine industry.

Fredrik Osterberg, co-owner of Pedernales Cellars, said, “Our focus is to bring more attention to fine wines made in Texas that can be found on the wine lists of some of the best restaurants and wine stores in the state. We look forward to sharing our wines that range from Viognier,  Vermentino and Picpoul Blanc to Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Mourvedre and Tannat – all of which express Texas terroir and character.”


Texas Fine Wine participating wineries have the distinction of being garnered 25 Gold, Double Gold, Best-in-Class and Silver awards since 2010 at wine competitions from coast-to-coast. A list of these awards is available at:

Bending Branch Winery, Brennan Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, Pedernales Cellars

Make your Texas Fine Wine tasting list and bring it with you to Texsom. Due to the limited production of Texas wines, they are not generally available out of state. This is a unique opportunity to taste some of the best wines Texas has to offer. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 3:01 pm
Jul 152014


Hill Country Wine & Food (Truck) Pairing – First annual festival to be held in Luckenbach

The First Annual Hill Country Food Truck Festival featuring more than a dozen food trucks, Texas Hill Country wine and a lineup of live music will take place from Noon until 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 2, in Luckenbach Texas.

Nearly a dozen Hill Country wineries will offer wines for purchase by the glass and bottle from Noon until 9:00 p.m. Wineries include 4.0 Cellars, Messina Hof Hill Country, Kerrville Hills Winery, Fall Creek Vineyards, Texas Hills Vineyards, Singing Waters Vineyards, Becker Vineyards, Texas Legato Winery, Westcave Cellars Winery and William Chris Vineyards.

More than a dozen food trucks will also be in attendance with a variety of food truck fare for purchase. Participating food trucks include Cheesy Jane’s, Clear River Pecan Company, Come and Get It Chuckwagon, Crazy Carl’s, KHILL BBQ Company, Mr. Meximum, Red Bud Roasters, Ritts Twisted Brisket, SaWeet Cupcakes, Slider Provider and SpiceSea Gourmet.

The Americana live music schedule will kick off at Noon and continue until 11:30 p.m. Headlined by The Greencards, performers include Milk Drive, Martin & Lewis, Paul Cauthen, Bonnie Bishop, Dan Dyer, Steve Poltz, Rosie Flores, and more.

Proceeds will benefit the Texas Center for Wine and Culinary Arts (TCWCA), a planned 30,000 sq. ft. facility which will be located in downtown Fredericksburg, the hub of the wine industry in the Texas Hill Country. The TCWCA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the awareness, understanding, and celebration of Texas food, wine and agriculture through educational programming and hands on experiences for wine and culinary enthusiasts, for food and hospitality professionals and for high school and college students.

In addition to the TCWCA, event organizers include Luckenbach Texas, the San Antonio Food Truck Association, the Texas Hill Country Wineries and the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau.

Tickets for the Hill Country Food Truck Festival are $15 per person for adults and children ages 12 and under are free. Tickets are available online at


 Posted by at 9:05 am
Jun 222014

Cap*Rock Winery 2011 Toscano Bianco

The Rest of the CapRock Winery / Texas Custom Wine Works Story

No sooner did I confirm the sale of the Cap*Rock Winery equipment and push go to post my previous blog on the matter last Friday (click here), but Michael Sipowicz, President of Texas Custom Wine Works in Brownfield tried to contact me to discuss details of the matter. We finally linked up yesterday evening. So, in typical Paul Harvey fashion: Page Two for the Rest of the Story…

After we exchanged greetings, Michael said, “You know, I did my first internship at Cap*Rock Winery. It is a special place to me because it cemented the thought in my mind that I wanted to be part of Texas wine industry. I got to work there when Kim McPherson was there too. We mucked out tanks together and I learned a lot from him. Michael Vorauer who helped open the winery and later made wine there is a friend of mine. That winery is part who I am today.”

Michael Sipowicz on right with TCWW partners (from

As Michael talked, I thought to myself….This doesn’t exactly sound like someone that wants to participate in bringing an end to the Cap*Rock Winery brand.

Then, Michael confirmed that his Texas Custom Wine Works (TCWW) did purchase winemaking equipment from Cap*Rock’s owners, but…  (VT – and here is the rest of the story) not all of it. What TCWW acquired were the really big tanks used to finish and store wine. What was left intact at Cap*Rock Winery was the front-end equipment used to crush and press grapes and handle things in the early stages of the winemaking process.

Michael said, rather than put an end to the Cap*Rock brand, we see this as a partnership between TCWW and Cap*Rock’s owners and a new investor in the winery. It’s a partnership that we intend to use to stop the roller coaster ride at Cap*Rock that has been so disruptive to its brand in the past. Russ, you actually chronicled that pretty well in your blog (click here VT – Truthfully, Michael didn’t actually link to my website address while talking to me). But, what you didn’t know at the time was the nature of the business relationship and the goals our partnership has going forward.

According to Michael, “The take home message here is that by bringing this equipment to TCWW, we expect the partnership with Cap*Rock to reduce the number and better organize the labels they offer. This will lead to more stable and quality production. We will also use our consulting services on the matters of effective distribution of Cap*Rock wines in the marketplace, too.”

So, the sum total to me is that it sounds like a WIN-WIN-WIN proposition:

  • First Win: It will improve the situation for Cap*Rock and its investors helping it to stay in the marketplace (and maybe even more effectively source Texas grapes – VT – this is my guess).
  • Second Win: This is a major deal for the “new” but very capable “kids on the block” at TCWW. They provide services that are very badly needed in this fledgling Texas wine industry that both small and big wineries need to utilize.
  • Third Win: As consumers go, it keeps a longstanding and recognized brand in the Texas marketplace. Personally, I liked Cap*Rock’s Roussanne and Tempranillo wines and red and white blends that came into play in the 2010 and 2012 time frame. They generally had good quality at a very reasonable price point. In fact, I think that I’ll toast this deal with a bottle Cap*Rock 2012 Toscano Rosso with my Mediterranean ground lamb and eggs tonight.

— — — — —

In addition to working effectively, the only thing (as a wine writer and blogger) that I request from Michael and his friends at the new, new, new, new, new Cap*Rock Winery is to finally stop with the “*”, alright! It will save me and all other wine writers and bloggers the extra key strokes and we will be thankful for that.

CapRock Winery = Cap*Rock Winery and it’s easier to type!

P.S. VT – Michael Sipowicz just texted me and said that the “*” has already been dropped. However, it still appears on their existing website:

OK , while I’m on a roll here. What was that imaged that Cap*Rock Winery used on their 2010 Roussanne, anyway? (see below):

TCWW…Boys, please suggest that Cap*Rock use different label art!

 Posted by at 3:48 pm
Jun 202014


Is It the Last Pour for Cap*Rock Winery?

It has been confirmed that the winemaking equipment from Cap*Rock Winery in Lubbock, Texas, has been purchased by up and coming Texas Custom Wine Works of Brownfield, Texas. This may be the last line in the history of the winery that started in the 1980s as Teysha Cellars with the hopes and hard work of winemakers Dr. Roy Mitchell and Michael Vorauer. Or, perhaps it’s the last pour…

Cap*Rock Winery arose from the ashes of Teysha Cellars which was started in 1988. In four short years, the ownership changed along with winery’s name . However, within a decade Cap*Rock”s fight to gain a foothold in the Texas wine marketplace brought still more bankruptcies and reorganizations. In 2010, Cap*Rock Winery was purchased at bankruptcy auction by Laurent Gruet (of New Mexico Sparkling Wine fame) who defaulted on the purchase despite that fact that he was the highest bidder and only needed 10% to continue the sale (click here). When this purchase didn’t take place, a second auction was held and Cathy and Jim Bodenstedt from San Antonio stepped in to purchased the winery (click here).

However, despite releasing many new Texas appellation wines, things were still not stable at Cap*Rock Winery. In 2013, Gary Sowder and Matt Hess, owners of, purchased early in 2013 (click here). Since that purchase, there has been speculation as to what was going on at Cap*Rock Winery.

Well, today it was confirmed that the winery equipment at Cap*Rock was purchased by Texas Custom Wine Works and will be relocated to their facility in Brownfield, Texas. When called, the general manager confirmed that they, in fact, were able to help their friends at Cap*Rock Winery out by purchasing the equipment. Texas Custom Wine Works is a wine making facility and offers a comprehensive list of viticultural and winemaking services as the main line of their business (click here).

According to Dusty Timmons at Texas Custom Wine Works, they are bringing the equipment to their facility and have plans to expand the building. They also plan to be making wines for Cap*Rock. This means that, at least for the time being, there will be Cap*Rock wines in the marketplace.

We will just have to wait and see what’s next for the Cap*Rock building. It was a state-of-the-art destination winery when built. However, neither the young Texas wine industry of the 1980-2000s or it’s location in Lubbock far away from the wine tourist centers in Texas could sustain it. It is still a heck of nice place for parties and weddings and will provide someone a great venue.



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 Posted by at 6:57 pm